Swiss Watch Exports In 2003 - A Less Difficult Year Than Expected

In line with forecasts, 2003 turned out to be a mixed year for Swiss watch exports. Their value reached 10.177 billion francs. This was 4.4% or 462.9 million francs less than in 2002.

Expectations at the beginning of the year suggested that the situation would be still more difficult. The war in Iraq which depressed tourism, the SARS epidemic and the weak economic situation in Europe, were all factors prejudicial to Swiss watch exports. Despite these obstacles, the Swiss watchmaking industry experienced only a limited downturn to slightly below the level reported in the year 2000, after several years of strong growth.

2004 is likely to see a return to moderate exports by the Swiss watch industry. The economic upturn in the United States should lead Asia in its wake and so create favourable conditions for Swiss watch products. The European economy will be slower to achieve the same turnaround.

Figures for finished watches were identical to those for the watchmaking industry as a whole. The value of exports of these watches was 4.4% lower than in 2002 at a total of 9.292 billion francs. The fall in volumes has been less marked since the first half of 2003. However, it is 8.4% lower than in 2002, equivalent to a loss of 2.2 million pieces. The number of timepieces exported therefore reached 24.6 million.

With the exception of platinum, exports of watches in all the different materials were lower. However, exports of platinum watches account for only a few thousand pieces. Among the principal materials, watches in 18 carat gold were significantly lower with a loss of 10.2% in value terms, while steel and bimetal timepieces respectively lost just 0.4% and 1.6%.

The value of steel watches remained practically stable, but the volume was down by 5.5%. The downturn for aluminium is more significant at -18.2%. Timepieces in 18 carat gold reported better than average performance (-5.8%), but still declined.

The value of exports of other watchmaking products also fell. Taking an average for the whole branch, movement and component exports were 4.9% and 4.1% lower respectively. Watch case exports were more seriously affected and fell by more than 20%. On the other hand, large horological products (clocks of all kinds and their components) performed well with 6.4% growth by comparison with 2002.

During the year 2003, the fifteen main markets showed the following trend (total value in million francs and % variation by comparison with 2002):

2.Hong Kong1,420.2-8.2%
6.Great Britain580.4+3.1%
8. Singapore395.1-8.9%
10.United Arab Emirates237.6-1.6%
14.Saudi Arabia164.2-5.7%

Reflecting the economic recovery in the United States, exports of watches to this market were 1.1% higher than in 2002. The trend was positive overall, especially because of peaks in March and September, with a downturn at the end of the year; despite this, the final figure was above zero.

In Asia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore ended the year with two-figure downturns in December. The former British colony has not yet recovered and is still tending to weaken. After a period of relative stability, Japan has reported a more significant downturn since November 2003. On the other hand, China continues to register excellent results and has gained one place in the ranking since the first half of 2003.

Confronted with short-term economic difficulties, Europe is now a more difficult market for Swiss watch exports. However, results have been more satisfactory since September 2003. The market seems to have bottomed out in the summer and the trend is now recovering. The year ended with an overall decline of 4.6%.

February 03, 2004